Though Malaysia is strongly bent towards becoming more developed and urbanised, the country still preserves unique local cultures, arts and crafts by creating centres or specific spaces not just for posterity but also for educating the public, including travellers, regarding the ethnic groups that make up the country and their respective traditional cultures, backgrounds and lifestyles. Gaya Travel therefore has selected 10 venues that are all destinations in their own right and worth checking out by travellers due to their enriching and eye-opening content.

Mah Meri Cultural Centre, Pulau Carey

mah meri

Photo credits: Projek Travel

If you fancy unique aboriginal cultural experience, the best place to head to is the Mah Meri Cultural Village in Pulau Carey, just 20 minutes from Klang, the Royal Town of Selangor. The people there still lead life according to the age old tradition and more than happy to showcase their traditional performances, unique handicrafts and culture. But, the best part of the visit is to witness the traditional mask dance performance, Mayin Jo-Oh, which is performed to invite the ancestral spirits, or moyang, to join in the festivity. There are also grotesque statues and carvings representing spirits being put on display for visitors to appreciate. Each of these spirits have their own names, functions and arresting stories – take time to know more about them! Visitors may be surprised to learn that the masks and wooden sculptures sold here can reach up to 5 figures in terms of price.

Getting there:

Mah Meri Cultural Village

Address: 42960 Pulau Carey, Selangor

Phone: +6 010 252 2800

Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Mari Mari Cultural Village, Inaman

Photo Credits: blog.malaysia-asia.my

Photo Credits: blog.malaysia-asia.my

About 25 minutes’ drive from Kota Kinabalu City Centre, travellers will find a commercial setup representing the lifestyles of five major ethnic tribes in Sabah, all united under one roof of Mari Mari Cultural Village. It features mini longhouses representing each tribe together with actors and actresses fully dressed in their tribes’ traditional attires. Be sure to get involved in the craft-making demonstration or traditional dance performances. Each tribe has its significant characteristics, for instance, the Lundayeh warriors are good in making ropes and vests from tree barks, while the Bajaus, on the other hand, are excellent traders.

Getting there:

Mari Mari Cultural Village

Address: Inanam, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Phone: +6 016 821 5689

Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Sarawak Cultural Village, Kuching

Sarawak Cultural Village

Best known by the locals as a ‘living’ museum, the Cultural Village is located at Pantai Damai, Santubong, 32 kilometres from Kuching, the state capital. There is about 150 people living in the village that sits on a 17-acre land, representing Sarawak’s diverse tribes like Iban, Bidayuh and Melanau. They usually dressed in their traditional costumes and sometimes dance for tourists too! The village is built with a theatre, a restaurant, handicraft workshops and longhouse replicas. Interestingly, couples in love may even get traditionally married here according to Iban, Malay, Bidayuh or Orang Ulu custom. Sarawak Cultural Village is also the venue for the World Harvest Festival and the internationally renowned Rainforest World Music Festival.

Getting there:

Sarawak Cultural Village

Address: Damai Beach Resort, 93762 Kuching

Phone: +6 082 846 411

Lamin Dana, Mukah

Photo credits: www.ruggedmom.com

Photo credits: www.ruggedmom.com

‘Lamin Dana’ means traditional house in archaic Melanau and it is basically a cultural boutique lodge located in the Malanau heartland of Mukah, Sarawak. The idea of preserving Melanau heritage and identity started by a forward-thinking lady called Diana Rose back in 1999. Built by a team of four men, the original Melanau tall-house has been owned by her family for generations and has now become a major tourist attraction in Sarawak’s central region. Visitors can expect to experience the Melanau culture and lifestyle by partaking in various local activities, especially along Telian River, including getting traditional massages and steam bath. For the adventurous, the chance to eat a live sago worm with its head plucked off is a must!

Getting there:

Lamin Dana, Mukah

Address: Kampung Telian Tengah, Sarawak

Phone: +6 084 871 543

Pasar Payang, Kuala Terengganu

Photo Credits: Tourism Malaysia

Photo Credits: Tourism Malaysia

A visit to Terengganu would not be complete if visitors do not drop by at Pasar Payang. Just a few minutes’ walk from the inter-city bus station, Pasar Payang is one of the shopping arcades for shoppers to buy local handmade crafts, food, clothes and even groceries under one roof. Since Terengganu is also known for its thriving batik and songket industries – some of the best batik and songket fabrics in Malaysia is made in Terengganu – visitors should consider buying  a piece at Pasar Payang as souvenir. But be sure to bargain upon buying in order to secure the best prices for the products sold.

Getting there:

Pasar Besar Kedai Payang, Terengganu

Address: 20000, Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu

Phone: +6 09 627 1111

Craft Cultural Complex, Kuala Lumpur

Photo credits: Miera Nadhirah Tan

Photo credits: Miera Nadhirah Tan

The Craft Cultural Complex is located along Jalan Conlay in Kuala Lumpur and managed by the Malaysia Handicraft Development Corporation, a statutory body under the Ministry of Culture, Art and Heritage. It offers exclusive Malaysian Handicrafts such as silk kaftan, bathrobes, silverware, mengkuang products, pewter wares, potteries and silk batik paintings. Apart from selling and showcasing them, the Craft Complex also provides craft-making demonstrations and practical interactive sessions for visitors to get their hands on making the crafts, definitely a sheer fun for those who would like to express their creativity in unique ways.

Getting there:

Craft Cultural Complex, Kuala Lumpur

Address: 5, Jalan Conlay, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

Phone: +6 03 2162 7459

Central Market, Kuala Lumpur

Started off as a humble market in the heart of the city, Central Market now is favoured by both locals and international tourists seeking multitude of handicrafts conveniently under one roof. Travellers also come here to witness the diverse multi-ethnicity available here along the lorong or alleys that are identified as Straits Chinese, Malay and Indian. Besides handicraft stalls, there are also myriads of eating places that visitors can dine and take a rest here. Traditional shows and busking performances are also occasionally held at the stage outside, especially during weekends, making the place more vibrant and alive.

Getting there:

Central Market, Kuala Lumpur

Address: Central market Annexe, Jalan Hang Kasturi, 50050 Kuala Lumpur

Phone +6 03 2031 0399

National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur

Photo Credits: Wikipedia

Photo Credits: Wikipedia

Showcasing a permanent collection of over 4,000 local and foreign works of art (including photography) such as the works by Zulkifli Dohalan, Wong Hoi Chong, Ahad Osman and the renowned batik artist Chuah Than Teng, the National Visual Arts Gallery or Balai Seni Visual Negara was established by the Federal Arts Council back in 1958. The design of the National Visual Arts Gallery is similar to the Istana Budaya (National Theatre) with features like tinted glass, clean modern lines, traditional Malay design and landscaped grounds. When being in Kuala Lumpur, art lovers should take the opportunity to check out this gallery’s changing exhibitions that continuously showcase artworks by local and foreign artists, exposing the public to what the current art movement has to offer.

Getting there:

National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur

Address: 2, Jalan Temerloh, Off Jalan Tun Razak, 53200 Kuala Lumpur

Phone +6 03 4025 4990

Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum, Melaka

Baba & Nyonya, also known as the Peranakan or Straits Chinese are the descendants of noble Chinese who migrated to the British Straits Settlements of Malacca and adopted the local Malay culture. Being around for more than 100 years, the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum is a living museum located on Jalan Tun Cheng Lok, a street adjacent to the Jonker Walk, which was once served as the family home to the Baba Chan family known as Rumah Abu. The museum today exhibits an archive of beautiful traditional Baba and Nyonya costumes and unique bridal chamber. There are also black and white photo exhibits of the Chinese tradition of foot binding that was common among the girls of Peranakan over a century ago, including beautifully crafted and intricately designed miniature shoes here!

Getting there:

Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum

Address: Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, 75200 Melaka

Phone: +6 06 283 1273

Chetty Museum, Melaka

Photo Credits:www.lilyrianitravelholic.blogspot.my

Photo Credits:www.lilyrianitravelholic.blogspot.my

Chetty is a community originated from Kalingapatnam, South East of India, and should not be confused with Chettiar, a group of elite bankers that loan money to the locals during British rule. The Chetty men came to Melaka in the 15th century to trade spices and merchandises from India. Some of them decided to stay in Melaka and married to the local women of various ethnicities like the Malays and the Javanese, giving birth to a new breed called Indian Peranakan or Chetty. The inter-marriage between ethnicities and strong local assimilation is the reason why the Chetty developed a Malay-like culture and speak in Malay rather than Tamil. It is also not uncommon to see Chetty women in kebayas and sarongs. Today, there are only about 1,000 Chetty people left in Malaysia. Those who are interested to know more about the Chetty community are advised to visit the Chetty Museum located on Jalan Gajah Berang. The museum exhibits every aspect of Chetty community from history, attire, culture, food to religious affairs. It opens every Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The admission fee is RM2 per adult and RM1 per child.

Getting there:

Jalan Gajah Berang, 75200 Melaka

Tel: +6 06 282 6526

Mini Malaysia Park & Mini ASEAN Park, Melaka

Photo Credits: www.kirkanatomy.com

Photo Credits: www.kirkanatomy.com

Located in Ayer Keroh, this unique cultural theme park displays many various cultural elements, including the lifestyle of the local people in the olden days and traditional architecture. It was first opened to the public in 1986 by the former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and was developed to cultivate interests and knowledge among the visitors about the history, cultural heritage of each state along with traditional architectural characteristics. The houses are replicas built in accordance to the exact size and design of the original houses. Some of the houses are Perlis long roofed house, Terengganu five roofed house, Rumah Dusun Lutud (Sabah) and Rumah Panjang Sarawak. In each house, the respective traditional clothing and accessories of the major community in that particular state are presented to educate visitors on the persons inhabiting such abode.

Getting there:

Mini Malaysia & ASEAN Cultural Park

Address: Hutan Rekreasi Ayer Keroh, Lebuh Ayer Keroh, 75450 Ayer Keroh

Phone: +6 06 234 9989

Tips to enjoy Malaysian Arts, Crafts & Cultural centres:

  • Check on the schedule of traditional performances or demonstrations prior to visiting to avoid disappointments for coming into empty spaces or studios.
  • Plan your time smartly so that you don’t have to rush the tour – more time in tour leads to more enriching experience.
  • Come in a small group in order to avoid fuss. Check to see whether the centre could organise a personalised tour for your group.
  • Try not to buy the souvenirs typically found at the usual shops but opt for customised hand-made crafts instead – that would be more memorable and undoubtedly special!
  • Be active by joining the traditional dance performances if available – it will be fun! The natives/performers can be quite entertaining and friendly too.
  • Choose a tour guide that is well versed about Malaysian local culture, arts and crafts.
  • Participate when the opportunity arises – the more involved travellers are in the activities, the more unforgettable and valuable the experience becomes.

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