Malaysia or Indonesia? Your next Asian adventure awaits…

written by Kate Gazzard October 2, 2022
Bright green rice terraces with the rising figure of Mt. Algung in the distance.

Picking a country out of a hat was sooo last year.

So, you’ve picked the continent (Asia) but can’t settle on the country you want to explore. Don’t be alarmed, it’s an incredibly common problem. Like how are you supposed to decide between the diverse landscapes of Malaysia or Indonesia’s paradise-like island of Bali?

That’s where we come in. To help you on your way to decision-making success, we’ve put together a guide comparing these two spectacular countries, so you don’t have to spend all your free time googling. You’re welcome.

Whether you’re more interested in customs and culture or your tastebuds are already salivating at the thought of traditional cuisine, this blog will determine which country you should visit next. Fingers crossed.


A collection of red candles being lit.

You don’t just get one culture when you travel to Malaysia, you get several. With Indian, Chinese, Malay, and Eurasian influences, Malaysia is truly a melting pot of cultural diversity and with that comes plenty of traditions, religions, foods, languages, and customs.

However, regardless of your ethnic background, there are some things in Malaysian culture that all groups embrace. The elderly demographic is respected and well looked after, as are those who rank higher in society (large economic wealth, government officials etc), and food is often used in religious ceremonies and celebrations.

The religions found in Malaysia vary from Buddhism and Hinduism to Christianity and Islam with most displays of faith widely accepted among the wider population, even if they’re not part of that religion.


Local dancers in traditional dress.

If you thought Malaysia’s culture was diverse then times that by 10 and you’ve got the culture of Indonesia. With people heralding from all over the world including India, Portugal, China, and Malaysia, Indonesia is influenced by its neighbours when it comes to religion, cuisine, and way of life.

But despite the vast difference in language groups (there are over 300) and ethnic groups among the population, this country’s bond is strengthened against a common concept with its national slogan – Unity in Diversity. This core value is filtered through local communities with ideas of gotong royong (mutual assistance) and mufakat (consensus) dictating everyday life.

Religion plays a bigger and stricter part in society for the majority of Indonesians as everyone needs to choose a religion which is then listed on their national identification card. The majority of Indonesians practice Islam (around 88%) but Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Confucianism are all prevalent as well.



The skyscraper filled skyline of Kuala Lumpur against a blue sky.

The landscapes of Malaysia are like something out of this world – think golden sandy beaches, reefs bursting with marine life, flourishing highlands, and cities full of life and colour. Thanks to its environmental diversity, you’ll never run out of fascinating things to do and extraordinary places to see.

If you’re after ‘busy city’ vibes, heading to Kuala Lumpur will satisfy you with its skyscraper-filled skyline, trendy cocktail scene, and shopping malls packed with every boutique under the sun. If greenery is more your thing, then you’ll instantly fall in love with the rocky spectacles and ancient forests of Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. If you just want a beach getaway, the islands of Pulau Perhentian offer that and more with exotic marine life under the water’s surface and enough ocean activities to fill your afternoons.


Aerial view of some of Indonesia's luscious islands, surrounded by blue water.

Indonesia’s landscapes are guaranteed to leave you awestruck with dense tropical forests, never-ending rice fields, volcanic mountain ranges, and pristine coastlines among the natural wonders you won’t be able to get out of your mind. With over 17,000 islands including Bali, Sumatra, and Java to explore, Indonesia promises landscapes that have a little something for everyone.

From the breathtaking form of Mount Bromo in the Tengger-Semeru National Park (Java) to Komodo National Park (part of the new seven wonders of the world) with its rich marine ecosystems and the imposing komodo dragon, this diverse archipelago will never stop amazing you. And that’s a promise.  



Ingredients being cooked in a wok in Malaysia.

There are few countries that can compete with the likes of Malaysian cuisine, or with the passion of Malaysian people when it comes to food, and with good reason.

Due to its diverse population, Malaysian cuisine draws heavily on its Asian neighbours with favourite dishes such as murtabak (fried bread stuffed with meat and onion), roti canai (a flaky flatbread that’s often served with a savoury dipping sauce), and ayam madu (honey fried chicken) all originally from a different country.

But that’s not all. After a full day spent exploring, sit down to a meal of nasi lemak (considered to be the national dish of Malaysia), a bowl of laksa or a plate of mee siam if you’re after something a little sweet and spicy.

And wash it down with a glass of air bandung – a condensed milk and rose syrup concoction – that’s enjoyed all over the Asian continent.  


A group of travellers gathered around a local food stall in Indonesia.

Indonesian food is a treat for the tastebuds with traditional dishes full of rice, meat, and vegetables – a winning combination. You’re probably already familiar with some of the most popular foods to try in Indonesia (like satay and beef rendang) but sitting down to eat them in the country of their origin hits different.

Rice is a staple food for most Indonesian families, so you’ll find it on every restaurant or café menu across the country. But if steamed rice isn’t your thing, why not try Indonesia’s famous nasi goreng? Boasting the title of Indonesia’s national dish, nasi goreng is essentially this country’s version of fried rice but what sets it apart from the versions of its Asian neighbours is the sticky, sweet sauce that it gets cooked with.

If you’re thirsty (as well as hungry), a cup of tea or coffee should do the trick when it comes to raising those hydration levels. While they might not sound super refreshing after a long day spent exploring, Indonesia’s versions are sweeter than you might be used to, making them the perfect accompaniment to any meal.


The verdict

Both Malaysia and Indonesia are similar in so many ways, and while it can be hard to separate them, they do have their own distinct feel. Indonesia probably takes out the top spot when it comes to landscapes but both countries are pretty much tied in terms of cuisine and culture.

This one’s tough but Indonesia, take your crown.  


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