The idea of travelling in Malaysia during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, may make some people nervous, but it shouldn’t. It’s actually a great time to travel.
Not only can you avoid going hungry while travelling during Ramadan, you can also enjoy some unique Malaysian experiences that are only possible at this time of the year. Here’s everything you need to know before you go.
What is Ramadan?
The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (usually around May or June) to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, engaging in sexual relations and ‘sinful’ behavior, such as lying and fighting. Like many other religions, fasting is designed to develop self-control and inspire self-improvement. In Malaysia, Muslims typically begin fasting for the full day during Ramadan from the age of 12.
How does Ramadan in Malaysia affect travellers?
Like most Muslim-majority countries, Muslim-run food outlets close across Malaysia during the day, but that doesn’t mean food can’t be found. To the contrary, Chinese and other non-Muslim-run restaurants remain open pretty much everywhere, aside from the more conservative states of Kelantan, Kedah, Kuala Terengganu and increasingly Johor, where food can still be found during the day with a bit of effort.
Attractions, stores, and even bars and nightclubs stay open in most cities and towns during Ramadan in Malaysia. While smaller cities and villages are typically quieter during the day, they burst into life at night during the main meal, which can make for some fantastic photo opportunities.
The benefits of travelling in Malaysia during Ramadan
While travelling in Malaysia during Ramadan can have its frustrating moments, it can also be a rewarding cultural experience, particularly during Hari Raya Aidilfitri (also known as Eid), the Muslim New Year celebrations that mark the end of the holy month. This is a great time to mingle with locals when they are typically at their most welcoming, as it is believed by Muslims that good deeds performed during the holy month – such as inviting foreign guests to join them for the dawn meal, dinner, or Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations – are rewarded more highly than usual.
The holy month also sees Ramadan bazaars (special food markets) pop up in most towns and neighbourhoods every evening, offering an array of traditional Malaysian delicacies you may struggle to find at other times of the year (such as laksa Johor, a family-style laksa rarely sold in restaurants). Hotels, too, often put on elaborate Ramadan buffets during the holy month.
Top 8 tips for visiting Malaysia during Ramadan
- Check transportation schedules, as services can change or be booked up during Ramadan as Muslims head to their family homes to be together.
- Shops across the country can be very busy during the week leading up to Ramadan as families stock up on supplies such as dates, which are typically consumed before each evening meal.
- The sun sets at around 7.30pm across Malaysia, which makes this a very busy time to head out to dinner. Avoid the rush by arriving at restaurants a little earlier to secure a table, or plan for a late dinner.
- While non-Muslims are not forbidden to imbibe during Ramadan daylight hours, it’s respectful to avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public, as a sign of respect.
- Pack snacks (pot noodles are particularly handy) to get you out of a bind when travelling in areas where restaurants may be closed during the day.
- Some hotels close their restaurants during the day, but still offer room service. Check ahead before booking.
- Seek out Chinese and Indian neighbourhoods for the widest array of daytime dining options during Ramadan. Food courts typically operate as usual.
- Keep in mind that the sale of alcohol might be limited in restaurants and stores during Ramadan.
Interested in an adventure through Malaysia? Check out our range of small group adventures now.
Feature image by Mohd Zaki Shamsudin.