Split between the Malay Peninsula and its two Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, this historic trading route from Europe to China and India is a cultural melting pot of Malays, Indians and Chinese. These people bring with them a wealth of culture through their Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist and Hindi religions, festivals and varied cuisine. Malaysia boasts a rapidly developing economy, with major cities such as its capital, Kuala Lumpur, hosting modern hotels and shopping malls. Closer investigation into cities such as Georgetown on Penang Island in the north reveals Chinese and Indian cultural districts.

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Malaysia has a land mass of 126,853 square miles, neighboring Thailand to the North, Indonesia to the East and the South China Sea. The majority of Malaysia is covered by forest, with a mountain range running the length of the peninsula. These forests host an incredibly diverse ecosystem including ebony, sandalwood and teak. The population of Malaysia is 30.8 million people.

Malaysia welcomed 28 million international tourist arrivals in 2014. Away from the cities, the natural beauty of the country can be explored: from popular, beautiful islands such as Palau Langkawi to the inner regional rainforests and their hidden caves, waterfalls and canopy walkways, offering glimpses of its illusive wildlife and primary rainforest for the determined trekker. Sabah can offer spectacular interactions with nature, including the world’s largest flower (Rafflesia). An accessible tourist route assent of the highest peak in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu, presents the opportunity to take in the sun rising across the region.

To the east, Sepilok offers an opportunity to experience our close cousins, the orang-utan. Palau Sipadan is a popular dive destination with everything from turtles to sharks. For the more adventurous, Sarawak can offer river rides to interact with local indigenous peoples; however, one should note that tribes such as the Penan in this area are threatened by encroaching development and logging.

Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Golf Courses; Land displacement & Environmental degradation:

Watering a golf course green in Malaysia

The building of land-guzzling golf courses, particularly in Asia, has denied local people their land and their jobs, as investors have gobbled up land for the golf craze, while paying very little in compensation. There have been protests in a stream of countries, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, at the way in which golf courses have invaded protected forest areas, ancestral lands and farmlands.

The golfing craze has prompted the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia-Pacific to comment on the practice:

“Golf course construction has created widespread negative social, cultural and environmental impacts, particularly in the developing countries of the region. Typical impacts include forest destruction and air, water and soil pollution caused by the excessive use of chemicals.”

Chee Yoke Ling of the Global Anti-Golf Movement in Malaysia wrote: The golf business dramatically widens the gap between the rich and poor. Contrary to the principle of sustainable development, the game, through alliances between politicians and developers, contributes to the conversion of livelihood-sustaining resources of the poor to opulence-sustaining resources for the rich.

But golf courses do not just displace people and pollute the land: they consume vast quantities of water. In the welter of statistics, it has been claimed that one golf course in the USA uses enough water annually to provide at least 1200 people with their basic needs for a year. 

Ethical Photography:

Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/

Turtle Eggs:

According to RightTourism.com, the poaching of turtle eggs for consumptions and the major coastal development of Malaysia’s beaches, to make way for tourist developments, are driving marine turtles to extinction. Tourists may be encouraged to buy turtle eggs in markets or take part in unregulated tours to visit the turtle nesting sites and even handle the eggs. Please make sure you do not purchase any turtle egg products or disturb turtle nesting sites.

Deforestation:

According to WWF, palm oil plantations are a prevalent feature of the Malaysian landscape. The palm oil industry has become a major contributor to Malasia’s export earnings. The increase in palm oil production in Malaysia has been driven by strong global demand for oils and fats – most notably from Europe and China. This expansion of land used for palm oil cultivation has taken place at the expense of lowland tropical forests, which are ecologically sensitive habitats. Endangered animals, such as elephants, have lost their habitat due to the increase in palm oil production.

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